It will be a new-look North Bay Battalion team when they take to the ice in Kitchener Friday.
When the trade deadline passed a week ago, the Troops had made three deals on the day, acquiring defenceman Avery Winslow from the London Knights in exchange for draft picks, Christian Stevens from Niagara for Cameron Peters and picks, and shipping Martin Has to Guelph for more draft picks.
Coupled with the trade of Captain Brad Chenier to Sudbury for Shane Bulitka, the Battalion will have three relatively new faces in the lineup when they take on the Rangers.
“For Shane, he has brought so much to the Sudbury Wolves for a couple of years now,” General Manager Adam Dennis said. “We got to see him very closely, playing the Wolves eight times a year. We knew we were going to get a committed player who could show the young guys what they need to do moving forward and help that top line of (Luke) Moncada and (Brandon) Coe.”
“With Avery Winslow, we went into the deadline with eyes wide open knowing teams would be adding,” Dennis continued. “On the other side, there are players that might be looking for more opportunity and Avery was that guy. He’s a modern defenceman, he plays well with his feet and he is mobile. He is going to play in a lot of situations for us.
“With Christian Stevens, there had been a request from Cam Peters earlier in the season so part of that is fulfilling that, but we are really excited for the player we have gotten. It’s funny how these things work. A lot of times its opportunity in the lineup, and it was just one of those unique opportunities where the player was ready to try Major Junior and we had a player who interested them. We thank all three players for coming in, and we thank the players moving out for their time in North Bay.”
In Winslow’s case, he had requested a trade from London and is excited to have landed in North Bay.
“I loved London, loved the city, loved the people but I wasn’t getting the playing time I wanted and knew this was going to be a better fit for me,” Winslow explained. “It was exciting news for my family and me.”
In 28 games with the Knights, Winslow has scored one goal with three assists for four points and says he plays well on both sides of the puck.
“I take a lot of pride in my defence but I try to chip in on offence when I can,” Winslow said.
For Stevens, fans held their breath while awaiting news on if he would report. Stevens had originally been drafted by Windsor, before having his rights sent to Niagara as he had wanted to go to the NCAA and play college hockey in the States. After spending time this season with the Whitby Fury in the OJHL, Stevens decided to forego his NCAA commitment and join the Battalion.
“I like the small town area as I am from a small town near Whitby,” the 17-year-old said about his reason to join the Troops. “This is a nice spot to be, the fans love it and I have heard good things and I am excited to be here.”
“A lot of my family and myself think I am more of an OHL player rather than waiting and going to school,” Stevens added. “I was playing in Whitby, loved it there and I am from there and I think it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone.”
As for finding out about the trade, Stevens said the news happened while he was in class.
“It all came at me at once,” Stevens explained. “I was excited and had to make a decision on what to do and I think I made the right decision.”
With Stevens committing, it is a feather in Adam Dennis’ hat on a recruitment level. In recent years, the team has had problems in that field when it came to higher-end players committing. Martin Has, a draft pick of the Washington Capitals, was the first in a long time to come, and only played a game as league rules required for him to be traded to Guelph.
“I think if you look at everything from the start of the year to now, we’re committed to our youth movement,” Dennis said. “We have a lot of good young players and we can put them out there, see them make mistakes and hopefully develop them moving forward. I think people have taken notice of that and seen how we have been trying to develop our players.”
“The coaching staff has done a great job of communicating with these guys,” Dennis continued. “I think the word is out, I think we are starting to grow a little bit. That’s not totally from the change, but from the start of the year we have had a plan and I think people are starting to see it come to fruition.”
For interim head coach Ryan Oulahen, having a week of no games since the deadline has proved to be helpful when it comes to integrating the players to the lineup.
“The message to them and to everybody is to have an open mind,” Oulahen said. “You will be taught new things, there will be a completely different message. For example, for Avery, they play differently defensively in London than a lot of other teams.”
“For Christian, it’s a new league and it’s a big step,” Oulahen added. “That’s been the message to him, take it slowly. We’re ok to make mistakes, but we want to see intent there. We’re not looking for them to change the world in one day, this is a process.”
Compared to recent years, Guelph, London and Sudbury, and Niagara represent different trading partners than the usual deals with Owen Sound.
“We’re going to be selfish about the North Bay Battalion,” Dennis said. “Even when it comes to the Has trade, it was a strange situation. Obviously a player we would love to have in our lineup, but to get two quality picks for a guy that we weren’t confident was going to be in our lineup at any time, we felt was important for our franchise.”
“We weren’t worried so much about Guelph, Niagara, London, or Sudbury,” Dennis added. “We were worried about how it was going to affect us and I think that was important. We wanted to make sure the North Bay Battalion was at the forefront of anything we did and I think we accomplished that.”